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The Minister for Schools (Jacqui Smith): Literacy standards in primary schools have increased dramatically since 1997. In 2004, 78 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved the target level 4 of the national curriculum in English, an increase of 15 percentage points compared with 1997. At key stage 1, 85 per cent. of seven-year-olds achieved the target level 2 of the national curriculum in reading, and 82 per cent. achieved level 2 in writing, compared with 80 per cent. in 1997.
Mrs. Dean: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. As we approach the end of the school year, I should like to pay tribute to all our teachers for the hard work that they are undertaking to achieve those results. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Will my right hon. Friend tell me how our literacy standards compare with those of other countries?
Jacqui Smith: First, I completely agree with the emphasis that my hon. Friend places on the efforts of teachers to bring about these improvements. She is absolutely right to commend their efforts. She also raises the important question of how we compare internationally. Increasingly, in this globally competitive world, the ability of our young people to acquire literacy and numeracy skills is crucial. I am sure that my hon. Friend will therefore be pleased to learn that in a recent Progress in International Reading Literacy study in 2003, England's 10-year-olds achieved the third highest score out of the 35 countries surveyed. That is a credit to those children, their parents and their teachers.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)
(Con): The figures that the right hon. Lady has cited have actually plateaued at 78 per cent. for at least five consecutive years, so it is clear that more needs to be done. That is why we very much welcome the Government's decision to hold a review into the use of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading. That will go
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a long way towards raising reading standards among the one in five 11-year-olds who are failing to reach the required standard. Will the right hon. Lady assure the House that, if Jim Rose finds in favour of synthetic phonics, the national literacy strategy will be amended to recommend pure synthetic phonics in the first 16 weeks of formal schooling, and the teacher training colleges will be asked to train teachers in the necessary techniques?
Jacqui Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the review that we have set up under the leadership of Jim Rose, the former director of inspection at Ofsted. We have achieved these successes in literacy not least because we have been willing to consider evidence as the basis for the national literacy strategy. This is a continuation of our willingness to do that. We have asked Jim Rose to look at the evidence to determine what works, particularly in early years learning in relation to literacy, and to consider the emphasis on synthetic phonics. It is worth placing on record that, before the national literacy strategy, there was no approach to synthetic phonics in this country. The strategy introduced the requirement for the use of synthetic phonics every day for children between the ages of four and six, and that requirement continues. Of course we shall want to look very carefully at what Jim Rose, and those who support, advise and work with him, have to say about this issue, and we shall use their findings as part of our review of the literacy guidance that we offer to teachers as part of the primary strategy, in order to ensure that we continue the considerable progress that we have made in literacy since 1997.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle): The Department works closely with the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyslexia Institute to help children with dyslexia. A range of materials have been produced by the primary and secondary national strategies with the aim of raising standards in English schools. The most recent is a CD-ROM entitled "Learning and teaching for dyslexic children". This helps schools to increase awareness of dyslexia and to develop approaches to enable learners with dyslexia to succeed.
I thank the Minister for her reply. She will be pleased to hear that another Sure Start centre is about to open in my constituency. That is another great example of the Government giving children the best possible start in life. However, one of the gaps in Sure Start's work is the inadequacy of provision for identifying dyslexia in very young children. What additional work will the Minister undertake to ensure that very young children with dyslexia are identified at the earliest possible age, and that suitable training, teaching and resources are provided to ensure that they fulfil their potential?
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Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am glad that another Sure Start is to open in his constituency, because the facilities that it offers can certainly help to identify such issues. It is quite difficult to identify dyslexia in very young children until they begin to develop their literacy skills. Signs of language delay, for example, can be an indicator, but only when specific difficulties in reading, spelling, written language and so on start to show can diagnosis easily be made. The resources to which I have referred will help school staff and those working with children to increase their awareness and understanding of the barriers to learning presented by dyslexia, the behaviour to which it gives rise and teaching strategies to overcome them. The focus on this issue in the special educational needs code of practice will therefore ensure earlier diagnosis and better strategies to cope with the consequences.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Will the Minister agree that there is an important role to be played by private independent schools specialising in correcting dyslexia, of which there are currently eight across England, one of which is at Thickwood in my constituency? Their main clients, of course, are the local education authorities. Does she agree that it is important that we should encourage local education authorities to make use of the outstanding facilities available in those special schools?
Maria Eagle: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Dyslexia is a spectrum disorderit does not present in the same way in every individual, and people are affected in different ways. Of the 82,000 or so children who fall into the category and are identified, more than 99 per cent. are in mainstream education. It is therefore tremendously important that our mainstream schools understand the needs of learners with dyslexia. That is not to say that special school provision does not have a role to play for some pupilsthere are some 700 children in special schools whose main disabling condition is dyslexia. Given the fact that it is a spectrum disorder, it is important that the provision can cope with both ends of that spectrum. I am sure that the school in his constituency, and the others to which he refers, have an important role to play.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the proposals to close several special needs schools in Coventry? It seems to me that Coventry's education system has been subject to perpetual reorganisation for the past 25 years.
Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend will be aware of the fact that following the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, schools reorganisation is no longer a matter for Ministers but for local authorities through school organisation committees. I am sure, however, that he, parents and those in Coventry who are concerned about any such proposals will make the necessary points to those who make these decisions, and that the proposals can be changed to ones that are believed to be more suitable. That is a matter for local decision.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney)
(Con): Is the Minister aware of the research that shows that some 20 per cent
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of pupils in independent schools are identified as having dyslexia, whereas the figure for state schools is just 2 per cent? How does she explain that discrepancy?
Maria Eagle: I am not able to explain that discrepancy. I would be happy to examine the research to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and to return to him on that. As I have said, there are some 82,000 children whose main disabling condition has been identified as specific learning difficulties that include dyslexia. As we have already established, dyslexia is not always easy to diagnose and is a spectrum disorder, so one cannot say unequivocally where a particular individual is on the spectrum.
Mr. Cameron: While dyslexia is difficult to diagnose, will the Minister consider the simple tests being used in one secondary school in Banbury to identify it? Does she agree that alongside synthetic phonics, simple testing for dyslexia and remedial teaching are essential if we are to deal with literacy problems? If one cannot read, one cannot learn, and should not that be a higher priority for the Government?
Maria Eagle: It is a high priority for the Government. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that diagnosis is the key to remedial activity, and the earlier the diagnosis the better. I have made the point, however, that it is difficult to diagnose dyslexia in very young children, partly because of the way in which it presents itself and because it is a spectrum disorder. I would be happy to return to him, however, in respect of the points that he has raised.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): In Sheffield we have developed interventions for children with special educational needs, particularly those with literacy difficulties, as part of the city's primary inclusion strategy. The work has been showcased for the Department. Does the Minister think that local authority initiatives can sometimes be adopted usefully at national level?
Maria Eagle: I congratulate my hon. Friend's local authority. I am certain that local initiatives have a great deal to teach in this regard outside their own area, and that many authorities will be willing to learn from that one. Certainly the Department is.
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